Margaret Sanger – American Eugenics Society/American Birth Control League

In the institutionalization of population growth control measures, two of the names that stand out are Sanger and Rockefeller. Margaret Sanger (1879-1966) substantially founded the American feminist “reproductive rights” movement. In 1916 she opened a pregnancy prevention education office in Brooklyn, as a publicity stunt to protest New York’s Comstock obscenity laws (which criminalized dissemination of pregnancy prevention instructions). After nine days of business she was jailed and the office was closed, presumably as she had expected. By 1923 the legal and cultural atmosphere had changed, due in no small part to her activism, and she founded the American Birth Control League in Manhattan. In 1942 the League changed its name to Planned Parenthood, probably in reaction to the public perception that the League was associated with the eugenics program of the German National Socialist regime (as indeed, it was). Sanger was an ardent socialist, and a zealous member of the American Eugenics Society, and of the English one, for good measure. Her program can best be understood as an attempt to create the biological conditions of Eden — healthiness, and sexual disinhibition without consequential children or veneral disease…

German National Socialist (Nazis) -> American Birth Control League -> Planned Parenthood At their most benign, eugenicists held that careful “breeding” could improve the human race by limiting population growth and by reducing the frequency of undesirable genetic attributes, such as hereditary diseases. At their most malicious, eugenicists held that forced breeding or sterilization could either increase or decrease certain ethnic populations.Sanger was very clear that she would bear no confusion on that point:

I admire the courage of a government that takes a stand on sterilization of the unfit and second, my admiration is subject to the interpretation of the word “unfit.” If by “unfit” is meant the physical or mental defects of a human being, that is an admirable gesture, but if “unfit” refers to races or religions, then that is another matter, which I frankly deplore (Katz, 1995, 47).


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